They did it. They actually did it.
The Whitehorse Huskies are the 2017 Coy Cup champions.
Finally, Huskies head coach Michael Tuton can get a good night’s sleep.
“I haven’t slept in three months thinking about this, making sure everybody is good to go,” he said. “When you walk into the room you realize real quick there’s not much that needs to be said because of the leadership, the character of guys we have in the room — we were ready to play and do whatever it takes to bring it home tonight.”
RELATED: <a href=”http://yukon-news.com/multimedia/history-in-the-making/”>See slideshow of the tournament.</a>
The Huskies claimed their first Coy Cup with a 7-4 win over the Kelowna Sparta in the final April 1 at Takhini Arena, in front of a crowd of over 1,000 — the largest at-home spectatorship for the AA incarnation of the Huskies.
They now have the B.C. senior men’s AA championship banner to hang next to the 1993 Allan Cup banner in the Takhini rafters.
“Just to see this rink filled again, it’s been a long time since we’ve had that. Championships don’t get to happen at home very often and I know the boys know that’s pretty special,” said Huskies general manager Dan Johnson. “The Coy Cup is pretty special, and to win it at our home rink is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“So myself, I’m feeling a lot of relief. It’s been a long year, a lot of work, but it’s all worth it because we ended up where we wanted to end up.”
The final was arguably the Huskies’ most consistent performance of the season. They were solid from puck-drop to final buzzer. They didn’t lose their cool when the Sparta insisted on making it interesting. After scoring on the power play late in the second, Kelowna did it again midway through the third, pulling within one at 5-4 for the Huskies. On the penalty kill again late in the third, Whitehorse logged their first shorthanded goal of the tournament with forward Derek Klassen notching his second of the game. He was named the game’s first star.
With just over a minute left, Huskies forward Ted Stephens scored on the empty net to seal the deal. Stephens also logged the game-winner and picked up an assist in the game.
With a total of eight goals and nine assists under his belt over his team’s five games last week, Stephens was named tournament MVP.
Huskies forward Andrew Pettitt had four assists in the final. Other Whitehorse goals came from Kane Dawe, Simon Nugent and Kevin Petovello, who also logged two assists.
“I’m exhausted, but I feel great at the same time,” said Huskies captain Evan Campbell. “We pulled it off. We did what we set out to do. It’s super exciting.
“We wanted to win tonight and I think we executed very well. We stuck to our game. It got a little touch-and-go there in the third, but we kept working and we pulled it out.
“It took all of us. There wasn’t one guy who really stuck out. Everybody was on board, everybody played so well, and I’m so proud of everybody in the room.”
The Sparta, playing their inaugural season, placed first in the round robin to earn the bye to Saturday’s final. They beat the Terrace River Kings and the North Island Capitals — who were eliminated with three losses— and tied the Huskies 5-5 in the round robin.
“We felt like we came here to win the tournament and we felt like that’s the only thing that’s going to make us happy,” said Sparta head coach Kim Barnstable. “We’re a first-year team and we can take something from that, but we had every belief that we were going to come here and try to win the game. We knew we were going to have to go through a real tough team in Whitehorse, but we just fell a little short tonight.
“The guys learned a lot, what it takes to get to this level, and I think we’ll be better next year.”
The Huskies went 1-1-1 in the round robin, beating North Island 6-3, losing 7-6 to Terrace, before tying Kelowna.
They beat Terrace 7-3 in the semifinal on March 31. The game got heated at times, especially towards the end when Terrace, who took silver as runner-ups at the last three Coy Cups, realized they were at the end of the road.
Stephens posted a hat trick with two assists, Petovello had a goal and three assists, and Adam Henderson had two goals in the semi.
“That semifinal and the Kelowna game before that — that’s where we really jelled as a team,” said Huskies goalie J.J. Gainsforth. “We knew if we played that hockey tonight there was no way we weren’t coming home with it.”
Gainsforth kept his team alive while starting goalie Jon Olthuis was out with a knee injury from midway through Game 1 till his return in the final.
He was “a little” disappointed that he didn’t get to play the final, “but that’s part of being a team — it takes everybody,” said Gainsforth. “Whether it’s me or Jon in the net, we got it done and that’s all that matters.
“It took a long time to get here. It’s been three years for me and a lot of the other guys. It’s great to bring it home on home ice for a crowd like that and the guys in that room. It’s a pretty special moment for sure.”
The Coy Cup win for the Huskies was three years in the making. They lost in a playoff for a Coy Cup spot two years ago in their first attempt and lost in the semifinal last year — both times to the eventual champions, the Fort St. John Flyers.
“Right after these boys came back from the last Coy Cup, Mike (Tuton) came to me and said he wanted to win this thing at home,” said Johnson. “He figured he was a couple puzzle piece shy of doing that, so we filled some holes, got the Coy, won the Coy — one, two, three.”
“You’ve got to have a plan and you have to have the guys to do it — the guys on the ice and the guys off the ice, and huge credit goes to (executives) Dan Johnson and Echo Ross and John Stuckey for giving us the chance to come do this,” said Tuton. “I’ve never been around a more focused group of guys in my life. We had one thing in mind and nothing else was going to be good enough for us.”
“Stanley Cup, Coy Cup, it doesn’t matter. Anytime you win a championship with guys you’re so close with, it’s a surreal feeling. We’re just so thankful we had so much support from the Whitehorse community,” said Petovello, who moved to Whitehorse two years ago after attending the wedding of teammate Henderson.
“Klassen gave such a great speech in the room — so many of the guys grew up with their dads tying their skates in these locker rooms. To still be here in this town, having the support they do, taking us outsiders in like family … we just jelled together, we’re just such good friends, and to make a memory like that will last a lifetime.”
The Huskies are the first team to win the Cup at home since the Williams Lake Stampeders in 2014. Whitehorse “absolutely” lived up to expectations as host, said Trevor Bast, the B.C. Hockey senior adult male co-ordinator.
“They have to submit a pretty extensive bid and outline their budget and how they’ll accommodate the players and travel expectations, that sort of thing,” said Bast. “Their bid was super thorough, had sponsors on board, and it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
“They went above and beyond the B.C. Hockey minimum requirement for subsidizing travel…. They added on to that to really make sure teams were able to come.”
After the Huskies won the Allan Cup — the national men’s AAA championship — in 1993, the team dissolved the following season. So the big question is: will the Huskies be back next season?
“We’ve got to defend, don’t we?” said Tuton. “We have a program, we have expectations, the bar’s been raised, we have talent in Whitehorse and it’s up to us to showcase it.”
“I’d be surprised if we weren’t,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of pride in that room and they’re just a really great group of guys. I don’t think the Huskies are going anywhere for a while.”
“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever played hockey with and I would be more than elated to do it again,” said Gainsforth. “We’ll be back next year and we’ll be back stronger than this year.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org